Vices and Virtues

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The Four Cardinal Virtues

The four cardinal virtues are called natural virtues because they can be achieved by human effort and with grace from God. These virtues govern our actions, what is in our hearts, and our passions.

is the foremost of the cardinal virtues. According to Thomas Aquinas in his treatise on prudence, “ Without the moral virtues there is no prudence”. Prudence sets the foundation of all the other virtues.

Justice is another very significant virtue. Justice is the virtue which enables man to give to each own what is due to him (Pieper 44). To be just one must be able to distinguish what is their own is distinct from what belongs to a stranger.

Fortitude is the third of the cardinal virtues. Because it is the third virtue, there is no fortitude without prudence and justice.The early Church believed Christians could acquire fortitude through martyrdom( Pieper 117).

Temperance is the fourth and final cardinal virtue. Aquinas defines this as “serenity of the spirit”( Pieper 147). Temperance is distinguished from the other virtues by the fact that it refers only to the active man himself. While prudence looks to the existent reality, justice to the fellow man and the man who possesses fortitude may give up all that he owns to another, including his life(147).

Three Theological Virtues
Virtues fighting vices, stained glass window (14th century) in the Niederhaslach Church

There are three other theological virtues that were added to the cardinal virtues by Christianity. These are faith, hope, and love. The Apostle Paul distinguished these three as the specific Christian virtues. He emphasized love as the greatest of these. “ So faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love( 1 Corinthians 13:13). According to Christian teaching, these three theological virtues do not originate from the natural man. They are imparted by God through Jesus Christ and then are practiced by those who believe.

The Four Cardinal Vices

There are four cardinal vices. These are pride, envy, anger or wrath, avarice or greed. These are considered the worst of all the sins. Like the cardinal virtues, cardinal sins hinge on all other sins. These vices have been used to educate Christians on humanity's tendency to sin.

Pride is the first of the four cardinal vices. It is the father of all other sins or vices. The Bible puts repeated emphasis on pride as having its roots in self-centeredness. It is not only the worst sin but it leads to every other sin from which no one is free. For example, man can overcome envy, anger, and even greed but who can say that he has rid himself of pride.

Pride is first seen in the third chapter of Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve. Man was made to go God’s way but had a tendency to go his own way because of pride. They put themselves in the place of God, by setting themselves at the center of their world.
Aquinas said that every sinful act proceeds from an inordinate desire for some temporal good. The fact that one deserves a temporal good inordinately is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately.

Envy or jealousy is the third cardinal vice. It is a resentment of others and their possessions. According to Dante, envy is love of one’s own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs. Envy comes from the feeling of inequality. An envious man compares himself to others. If he feels he should have the same abilities or possessions of another man, and he feels inadequate he becomes envious or jealous. An example of envy can be found in the story of Saul and David in 1 Sammuel 18.

Anger is probably the most common sin. It is the first perversion in human nature to show itself. We can see anger in babies even before they can talk. Anger is the cause of other sins, from gossip to murder. An English Bishop once said that the control of temper is nine tenths of Christianity.

Avarice or greed is a sin of excess. It is a desire to have more than what you need. It can be a desire for food, money, and power. Aquinas wrote that avarice is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.

Article Analysis for Title: Augustine on the Unity and the Interconnection of the Virtues
Author(s): John P. Langan
Source: The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 72, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 1979), pp. 81-95
Publisher(s): Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School
Stable URL:

Focus- The author argues that virtues are not necessarily interconnected.

Unity of Virtues
Interconnection of Virtues
There are many virtues not just one.
Every person lacks all virtues

Virtues cannot occur alone, that is they are inseparable on the level of ideas or forms (86).
Every person that lacks some virtue lacks all virtue.
What Augustine’s point obscures is that the doctrine of the interconnection of the virtues requires us to deny that a virtue is really present even when the actions of the person in question actually meet all the criteria of the virtue in question.
Speaks of the virtue possessed by the person rather than the individual who possesses the virtue.

Implications- After reading this article I can see how Augustine had a difficult time with his belief that virtues were interconnected. I believe that they are to some extent and that we can possess some virtues and not others.

Article Analysis for Title: Aquinas and Dōgen and Virtues
Author(s): Douglas K. Mikkelson
Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 2005), pp. 542-569
Publisher(s): University of Hawai'i Press
Stable URL:

Focus: The author argues how Dogen's treatment of the virtue list inherited from the Buddhist tradition contrast how Aquinas handled his classical and Christian legacy. Aquinas established a heirarchy of virtues; at the very top was caritas(charity) which others are connected. In contradistinction, Dogen handles his legacy differently, establishing the virtue of karuna(compassion) not at the top of a heirarchy but within all the others.



The Grammar of Virtue in Thinking

Virtues are not only good dispositions but also operative ones as well, that is they are modifications of human powers by which these are rendered and adapted to specifically human action. Virtus is a good quality of the mind by which welive rightly of which no one can make bad use, which God works within us without us.

Dogen established an unwavering relationship between morality and enlightenment, and furthermore established enlightenment and zazen as one and the same. The following passage encapsulates teaching in this regard. " To distinguish zazen practice from enlightenment is hereterical. In Buddhism there is no gap between the two. Our practice is identical with enlightenment, so initial practice is the whole of enlightenment."( Bendowa 834)

Caritas and Prudentia

( Charity and Prudence)

Charity is the preeminent virtue and deductively, we can see that charity is the highest of the theological virtues; indeed "without charity, faith and hope, are not virtues properly called."(548)

Prudentia cannot exist without caritas nor in consequence can the other moral virtues since they cannot exist without prudentia. Thus in a sense, charity and practical wisdom could be described as nondual although Aquinas makes it clear that they are nonetheless distinct and separated virtues (548).

Most outstanding virtue of the four cardinal virtues in Buddhism. Wisdom is in all other virtues. Compassion and wisdom ultimately are not distinct virtues but are infact are one and the same virtue (550).

Implications: After reading this article, I think it would be interesting to see how other religions view the cardinal virtues.

Article Analysis for Pieper,Josef.The Four Cardinal Virtues.Notre Dame,Indiana: Harcourt, Brace & World,Inc., 1964. Print.

Focus: Pieper give us his definition of the four cardinal sins. He argues that prudence looks to existent reality; justice to the fellow man; fortitude relinquishes in self-forgetfulness, his own possessions and his life. Temperance on the other hand.

Main Idea



Justice is the virtue which enables man to give to each what is due(44)

Justice is something that comes second : right comes before justice(45)

The act of justice is preceded by the act whereby something becomes his due. If something is due to a man as his own, the fact of its being due to him has not come into existence through justice (45).


Fortitude presupposes vulnerability, without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude (117).

An angel cannot be brave because he is not vulnerable. To be brave actually means to be able to suffer injury. Because man is by nature vulnerable, he can be brave(117)


Aquinas says that the meaning of temperance is “serenity of the spirit”(147)

What is meant is the serenity that fills the inmost recesses of the human being, and the seal and fruit of order, from which alone this “serenity of spirit” can flow forth.” Temperance” signifies the realizing of this order within one-self (147).

Implication: I can now understand the definition of cardinal virtues; hinges which the door of the moral life swings.